Little did anyone know that on a spring day in Missouri, a strong woman awaited her bloom-and bloom she did.
Maya Angelou was born Margeurite Annie Johnson on April 4th 1928. The woman she became is just as important, more so than the accolades, because it resonates life's turbulence and rising triumphantly.
Early on she would learn what it meant to be a survivor. Her parents, Bailey and Vivian Johnson had careers and livelihoods as her father was a navy dietician and doorman while her mother, a nurse, knew her way around a card table. Alas, hard work did not keep the family together and at age three, her parents split, and she along with her brother Bailey Jr., age four, were sent to live with her grandmother. A woman she would later credit for instilling values, setting a path for greatness.
Unable to correctly pronounce her name, her brother often referred to her as "My", meaning "My sister". Gradual migration brought the name to Maya. Never shying away or conforming to what others may have considered the norm, she met and married a Greek gentleman named Enistasious Tosh Angelos, for whom she bore a son, Guy. Starting as a nightclub singer she formed a stage name that would be a derivative of her nickname and Greek married name from Angelos.
In one of her most popular works, "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings", Maya does a bit more than express the tumultuous teenage years of her life. She tells of a woman of heartache, discrimination, determination and courage. During this ominous time, an incident involving the rape of her mother, caused a chain of events that can only be described as numbing. Maya related how she stopped speaking for a period of about five years behind the calamitous events leading ultimately to the death of the man that harmed her mama.
Assisting her in regaining her voice was a beloved teacher and friend, Mrs. Bertha Flowers. Mrs. Flowers presented a new world to Maya-a refreshing continuation of her journey. She gained respect, knowledge of the arts, studying poet laureates, some of the best story tellers, Shakespeare, Poe, Dickens. Maya decided for herself that it was better to live instead of existing in the memory of sadness, depression and hatred.
She knew what it was to have strong women in her life. Her mother, grandmother, who she lived with several times in her life, and Mrs. Flowers, just to name a few.
Diversity should have been her middle name, traveling worldwide, living in Africa and Egypt to further her causes and loves. An avid educator and accomplished linguist, she was fluent in Spanish, Italian, French, Arabic and a West African dialect, Fanti. In a word, she was amazing. Her life's work vast, and testament of a strong will to grow, nurture and inspire.
Whatever I knew or thought I knew about Maya Angelou, this is what I know to be true:
Life may not be a bowl of cherries but if you know why the caged bird sings, it can truly be sweet.